During the past century and a half, fewer than 100 Canadian soldiers have earned the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration awarded to members of that country’s military. Of those, the vast majority, 71, earned the award for action during World War I.
Amazingly, three recipients lived on the same street in the city of Winnipeg.
Cpl. Leo Beaumaurice Clarke, Sgt.-Major Frederick William Hall and Lt. Robert Shankland were separately awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of valor, or “valour.” as our Canadian friends spell it, during World War I, which Canada entered 100 years ago this month.
The three men all lived on Pine Street in Winnipeg, which was renamed Valour Road in the 1920s to honor the trio. The name reflects the inscription on the Victoria Cross: “For Valour.”
The medals, now the property of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, have been loaned to the Manitoba Museum, which is commemorating the beginning of the Great War with a display of the three medals. This marks the first time all three Victoria Crosses have appeared together in Winnipeg, according to Global News.
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries and previous British Empire territories.
Clarke and Hall died during the war, while Shankland survived. In all, 30 of Canada’s 71 World War I Victoria Cross recipients died during the 1914-18 conflict, which claimed the lives of approximately 67,000 Canadian soldiers, or nearly 1 percent of the nation’s population.
Clarke won the Victoria Cross “for most conspicuous bravery” after his battalion attacked a German trench line in September 1916 near the French town of Pozieres.
He led a party that entered the trench and forced its way toward the center of the German position. Heavy casualties left him fighting a German counterattack without any support. He suffered a bayonet wound but continued to fight alone, killing 18 enemy troops and capturing another, according to his citation.
Clarke, an Ontario native, survived that attack but was killed a month later on Oct. 5, 1916, at age 23, when a blast from a shell buried him in a trench.
Hall, born in Ireland in 1885, was awarded the Victoria Cross for giving his life to save a wounded comrade on April 24, 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium.
Hall and two other soldiers tried to reach a wounded man who was calling for help about 50 feet from their trench, despite heavy enemy fire. The two other soldiers were wounded and pulled back, but Hall made a second attempt and was killed as he lifted the wounded man.
Shankland earned the Victoria Cross at Passchendaele, Belgium, on Oct. 26, 1917.
Shankland rallied the remnants of his own platoon and men from other companies during fighting for one of the main lines of defense before Passchendaele. They inflicted heavy casualties upon the Germans and later dispersed a counterattack.
“His courage and splendid example inspired all ranks and coupled with his great gallantry and skill undoubtedly saved a very critical situation,” his citation says.
Shankland, a native of Scotland, lived until 1968, dying at age 80.
The men’s original Victoria Crosses will be on display at the Manitoba Museum until Nov. 14.
(Top: Images of Sgt.-Major Frederick William Hall, Cpl. Leo Beaumaurice Clarke and Lt. Robert Shankland, all of whom lived on Winnipeg’s Pine Street, are displayed with their medals at the Manitoba Museum. Photo credit: CBC News.)